13 February 2013

Nigeria: Audacious El-Rufai

Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, has the penchant for talking himself into trouble.

Former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai, was recently in the news again, but for the familiar reason of controversy. The diminutive 53 years old Surveyor and self styled social crusader has over time become known by various appellations. Some called him "Giant", a reference to his small size. He was also known as the "Privatization Czar" and "Mr. Demolition"

el-Rufai came into limelight during the transition government of General Abdulsalami Abubakar, when he was appointed as an adviser to the Transition government. He, however, became prominent when appointed the Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, between 2003 and 2007 by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Since then, "Mr. Controversy" as one appellation that aptly suits el-Rufai, has caused a couple of stirs. But recently, he veered into a dreaded terrain- religion.

He had stoked the religious controversy when he tweeted about Jesus Christ. The joke was about Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene directed at Information Minister, Labaran Maku, presidential Special Assistant on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe and the presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati.

el-Rufai, in an attempt to defend former Minister of Education, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, had written on his twitter handle that: "If Jesus criticises Jonathan's administration, Maku/Abati/Okupe, will say he slept with Mary Madgalene." This expectedly drew the ire of the Christian community over a joke considered expensive. Immediately, the twitter was awash with reactions.

One Dr. Thomas Agande in his reaction titled, el-Rufai Defiles Jesus Christ on Twitter, said "He went overboard when on his Twitter page, today January 27, 2013, said our Lord Jesus Christ had sex with Mary Magdalene. We see this as a very insensitive, irresponsible, and an offensive thing to say about Christ, and an attack on the sensibilities of Christians globally.

"el-Rufai betrayed his lack of respect for our Lord Jesus Christ and obvious hatred for Christians. How else can one explain his effrontery and buffoonery when he seemingly jokingly twitted that Christ had sex with Mary Magdalene."

National General Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Musa Asake, also in the statement threatened to let go of its members' anger on el-Rufai, if he did not desist from the statement.

He expressed concern over Mr. El-Rufai's "unrepentant and unremorseful conduct", saying they cannot guarantee any restraint by Christians against him the "next time he makes any other explosive statement that impugns on the Person of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ."

Not finding the reactions funny, el-Rufai later apologized on his Facebook page and explained that he did not mean the statement to come across as an insult to the Christian faith or inflame the passion among some followers of the faith. He however did not like CAN's reaction when described the group as the political arm of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government.

But while the dust raised by this was yet to settle, the former, last week launched a book which has been described as one of the most controversial in recent times. Many of the elite attacked in the book have come out to describe it as "fiction, half-truths, exaggeration and reflection of selective memory."

In the book titled "The Accidental Public Servant" el-Rufai chronicled multiple abuses by officials of government and the ruling party; scheming for power, and betrayals by former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, his deputy, Atiku Abubakar.

He portrayed the former vice-president as an over-ambitious politician, who had hoped that Obasanjo would not complete his tenure, and attempted to manipulate influential power brokers, including former military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, to back his ambition for the presidency.

But in his reaction, Atiku wrote: "el-Rufai's attack on my person is to say the least, not surprising considering that this is the same man who has notoriety for disparaging religions and their icons, including lately, Jesus Christ.

"If he could go to such an irreverent extent to disparage a religious icon, who is an ordinary mortal like me, it is my belief that any man that can cross the boundary of reason and decency deserves prayers rather than anger."

The book also contains controversial information on Obasanjo. For example, he described himself as the "de facto No. 2 official" in the Obasanjo's regime, especially after the political fallout between Obasanjo and Atiku towards the 2007 election.

But such controversy, observers say may have become habitual for el-Rufai. For instance, when he was to appear before the senate for screening, el-Rufai accused some senators of demanding bribe from him to ease his clearance. When he raised the alarm, the nation went wild in anger but when he was summoned to substantiate his claims, he buckled and tendered apology to the senators.

After his clearance, el-Rufai stirred yet another controversy as he was said to have hired some female aides, whose salaries were paid in dollars. This was also greeted with outrage.

There were also allegations that el-Rufai's tenure as FCT minister favoured his friends and relatives with land allocation bazaar including under-aged family members. The issue gave el-Rufai away that he was not after all an angel as many would have thought.

In 2008, el-Rufai appeared before the Senate Committee on FCT to defend allegation of corrupt practices during his tenure. He however justified his actions by inferring that many of the senators had lost properties during the restoration of Abuja and were therefore just to get their pound of flesh.

He once published a widely circulated essay on the late president, Umaru Musa Yar'Adua entitled: "Umaru Yar'Adua- Great Expectations, Disappointing Outcomes" which for the first time revealed aspects of the late president's life history, habits and statecraft, as well as the lack luster performance of the administration.

When Jonathan assumed power following the death of his boss, el- Rufai stepped up his criticism of the administration. He accused Jonathan of running an unimpressive government and described the president as "clueless" His actions pitted him against the administration and described as a mischievous and a liar. It also earned him several invitations from security agents.

Observers are however curious if el-Rufai derives joy in throwing up controversy as part of tactics to keep him constantly in the public glare.

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